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Bruce testifies before House Judiciary Committee

On February 14, LII Director Thomas R. Bruce was asked to testify before a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.  The subject of his testimony was the future direction of PACER, the recordkeeping system that is used by the Federal courts to keep track of their work, to publish the resulting Federal court decisions, and to allow efficient submission of documents needed for that process.  He was the sole expert testifying before the committee on that matter.

PACER has long been controversial for a number of reasons.  The biggest is the system of fees associated with it.  Established in order to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the system, PACER fees now generate millions of dollars in excess revenue each year, becoming, in effect, a general fund for court technology projects. Second, it is very hard to find things in PACER.  PACER’s search-and-retrieval technology for judicial opinions is severely outdated, but attempts at change have been strongly resisted out of fear of change. Finally, there are a number of more technical problems involving the apparatus of citation and metadata in use in the system.

Unsurprisingly, Tom’s testimony argued for major changes in the system, most importantly that fees be removed and the publication process be handed off to the Government Publishing Office, which already has a useful pilot program in place. Removing PACER fees, and thus bringing about fairer and more open access to all Federal judicial opinions, would be a major victory for open access to law.   Let’s hope it happens soon.

Tom’s full written testimony is here.  Other reports on the hearing are here (FreeLaw Project), and here (SLAW).

Our Very Own Transition Team

It’s a cruel reality that the busiest time for the leadership of our student-run Supreme Court Bulletin Previews is the very first month of their tenure.  In the weeks immediately following their appointment, the new Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor have to recruit, vet, and select 24 new associates from the class behind them.  They must choose a real case from the Court’s final docket of the term with adequate briefing already on file to support a writing competition, then they have to grade the applicants’ submissions and schedule interviews.  At the same time, they must learn their jobs from the outgoing leadership before those students graduate and join the working world as new lawyers. While it’s a daunting amount of work, we’re confident the new team is equal to the challenge.  

The new Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin is Laurel Hopkins.  Laurel graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College in 2014 with a degree in psychology.   She is a Charles Evan Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law and has already won three awards for her writing. Equally impressive is her resume as a volunteer, which contains activities ranging from coaching high school debate to spending summers working at an orphanage in Haiti.  “My favorite part of working for the Bulletin” Laurel explains, “is the opportunity to learn about Supreme Court cases while making information accessible to a broader audience. The transition process has been exciting because we get to both take a larger role in the Bulletin’s work and select new associates who are just as enthusiastic about carrying out the Bulletin’s mission.”

The new Executive Editor is Jaeeun Shin.  A native of South Korea, Jaeeun received her degree in International Studies from Yonsei University in Seoul but also studied as an exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley.  Jaeeun is active within Cornell Law School as a member of the Briggs Society of International Law, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Society and an associate on the Cornell International Law Journal.   “I thought writing previews as an associate was fun and challenging, but being part of the editorial board has already proven to be much more so,” Jaeeun says. “It’s been a busy few weeks so far but I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to be involved. We’re confident that we can look forward to another year of great previews.”

Laurel and Jaeeun have already selected a number of their classmates to serve as Managing Editors.  These MEs will work with pairs of new Associates to create Previews when the Supreme Court begins its 2017 – 18 docket in October.  Those new Associates will be selected by Laurel, Jaeeun and their team in the coming weeks.  That process consists of a writing competition and then interviews with each candidate.  They are looking to find students with both the skills and the desire to communicate to the public a clear, unbiased explanation of the issues and arguments for each case the Court hears. Your donations help us pay them as graduate research assistants.

Click here to access our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews, and find our students on Twitter and Facebook, too.

LII Donor Profile: Daniel Dwyer, Corporate Counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

Dan Dwyer is a senior attorney with 17 years of experience, currently serving as the in-house lawyer for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).  He is another great example of a donor who contributes to our work for the good of others–a large part of his job is to provide legal advice to people making decisions that affect how commuters get to work every day. We were intrigued by Mr. Dwyer’s role and wanted to learn more.

Can you describe your occupation and what a typical day is like for you at Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)?

I am a corporate and real estate attorney for the fifth largest transportation authority in the United States.  Although we work in all mass transit modalities except ferries, most of my work is focused on commuter rail. There are all manner of agreements, be they ground leases, equipment leases, licenses, development agreements, construction contracts and services contracts, letters of intent and memorandums of understanding that must be agreed upon with other railroads, developers, adjacent property owners and services providers. I also do a fair amount of state and federal legislative and regulatory analysis with an eye to giving my clients very succinct advice about what they can and can’t do.

Since you have experience in both, what would you say are some differences between working at a firm and working as an in-house attorney?

In a law firm, the lawyers is a revenue center whose primary job is to do legal work and her legal work product is the end goal. An in-house is a cost center and part of a bigger organization whose goals must be achieved. I tell the younger lawyers that they must balance three roles. The first is an attorney with all the professional and ethical obligations that entails. The second is an employee of an engineering organization who must function as a part of engineering project teams. The third role is that of a public servant. This is a broader set of obligations than those that I faced in private practice.

What do you find most challenging about your job? Most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect of my job is the aspect that is also most rewarding. I have to get-up every morning and do everything I can as a lawyer to help keep the trains running. There is no better feeling than looking at the trains during a service crisis and knowing what I did to assure that there was service. I ride to work in the morning and see people riding in cars that I leased over lines and through signals whose maintenance contracts I negotiated. It is challenging to keep everything moving but worth it.    

Thanks for your recent gift to the LII. In what ways has the LII been helpful to you in your work?

Commuter rail has been heavily regulated and legislated over the last 40 years. Sometimes it is not enough to know what the current legislation requires. You need to know how we got here and why things were done differently 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. Railroads are all about history and LII helps me access the legislative history that I need.     

How did you first come across our site?

I was directed to it by my dear friend and brother-in-law, John Joergensen, of Rutgers Law Library.

You mentioned that John Joergensen, our friend at Rutgers Law School, convinced you to support the LII. What did he say that inspired you to give?

He said two things. The first was to stop being a free-riding deadbeat. He also told me that, although information – particularly legal information – should flow freely, there is a cost to that flow.  If you don’t pay that cost, it won’t be available. It is the old “problem of the commons.”  If everyone shares a benefit, but can free ride on its upkeep, you eventually lose the benefit.

When visiting our site, do you always find what you need? If not, do you have suggestions for how we might improve access to certain parts of the law?

It is a great site. I wouldn’t presume to tell you your business.

If you were to tell others about the LII and why it’s worth supporting, what would you say?

The law should be readily available to everyone because if ignorance of the law is never an excuse than knowledge of the law is a necessity. In an internet-driven society, the access to the law must be on the internet and not behind a pay-wall for most people. LII takes the law from behind that pay wall.

What is one interesting fact about yourself?

I read about the history and development of administrative law for fun. The administrative state is a big part of our everyday lives  and to know what to do with it next, we have to know what we have been trying to do with it all along. I have little time for the highfalutin big idea political discussions we so often hear.  I want to think and talk about using law to fix big problems in, perhaps, little ways. My friends are getting sick of talking to me because of this.

Regulatory Revision on a Summer Day in February

Three weeks ago, a faculty workshop caught our eye. Professor Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas School of Law visited Cornell Law School, bringing with her 70-degree weather and a working draft of her article, “Dynamic Rulemaking”.

The article was the result of a collaborative empirical study of the rulemaking process in three federal agencies: the Federal Communications Commission, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It traced the lineage of a set of regulations to find revisions to rules and found that 73% of the rules they traced were revised at least once after promulgation. Many of the revisions did not undergo the standard notice-and-comment process.

The workshop also surfaced some questions for us about how our work is consumed by researchers. Alongside our enhanced copy of the eCFR we publish information about rulemaking activity. This semester, our M.Eng. team is working on a project which includes software to help compare regulatory language (we’ll be saying more about that project in future newsletters). We hope that as the new offerings become available, academics will be able to take advantage of the data we’re enriching.

New European Union Study of Caselaw Databases

It’s a little technical, but a new report from the European Union’s BO-ECLI project may well interest a fairly broad swath of our information-policy, librarian, and legal-information-retrieval friends, as well as those of you who are interested generally in questions of citation.  The report surveys and compares online publication practice throughout Europe. That would be valuable enough in itself.   But it is more broadly useful than that, in that it also looks at anonymization (privacy) policies, metadata inclusion, and other more generally applicable practices.  It can, and should, provide additional valuable information to other resource listings/catalogs, such as GlobaLex ; for comparative research on caselaw publication practices; and for information-policy specialists interested in such subjects as public records privacy.

At 178 pages, it is extremely detailed, but many will get a good deal of value from reading the more manageable and exceedingly well-written executive summary.  We’ve been watching the development of ECLI for a couple of years now with great interest.  This report represents only one aspect of this valuable activity, and we look forward to more.  

For more information on ECLI, see the project website here.